Yesterday the NYT wrote about Barack Obama navigating the slippery slope of giving well-paid speeches (he gets up to $400,000 per speech) while avoiding the impression of selling out his status as a former president of the United States of America. This made me think again about the motivation pyramid I had described in “Swarm Leadership”, from money, power, glory, and love, to enlightenment. Derived from Maslow’s pyramid, it occurred to me that there is an additional "status" layer. Barack Obama can translate his high status as former President of the US into money, by charging enormous speaking fees, however he has to be extremely careful not to reduce his status by giving the impression of cashing in. We can observe this effect on all layers of the motivation pyramid, which in its revised format looks now as follows.
The boundary between financial and social capital is highly
permeable. Wealthy people can buy higher status as so-called philanthropists by
donating some of their wealth to charitable causes. On the other hand people high
on social capital can convert their power and glory into financial capital.
Politicians can use their positions of power to enrich themselves by selling
jobs to their cronies and taking bribes. Actors, musicians, and athletes can
use their glory to promote brands and products, charging hefty fees for their
endorsements. And highly respected political and religious leaders can use their high-status
positions to solicit donations to their organizations and themselves. However if they are too aggressive in converting
their social capital to financial capital, they lose their social capital. The
most admired high-status leaders lead comparatively modest lives that ordinary
people can relate to. Pope Francis is one of the most globally respected
leaders because he moved out of the Papal palaces into an unpretentious
apartment and drives around in a Fiat instead of a stretch Mercedes car. And
Barack Obama is very careful to only give paid speeches that are associated
with the societal goals that he has been championing during his presidency,
such as the healthcare reform.
And that leads me to the failure of Hillary Clinton to
capture the US Presidency during the 2016 elections. She was highly successful
in converting her position of power as the wife of a US President, Senator of New York,
and US Secretary of State into high status, and then using this high status to give highly paid speeches, amassing a large fortune in the
process. Unfortunately this association with financial institutions widely seen
as the culprits of the 2008 financial crisis destroyed her social capital, thus
making her an undesirable president for large parts of the US population.
The picture above also illustrates that there are two ways to obtain high status: either through power and glory like Roger Federer or Barack Obama, or through enlightenment, by creating a sense of belonging, and helping others. The Dalai Lama, and open source leaders like Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux, Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia, and Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the Web, have all been working on a cause greater than themselves, giving up the direct way to status through power and glory, only to reach even higher status as the creators of these invaluable new technologies that have truly changed the way how we live, think, and act.